by Chris Matthis
Like many of you, I was born to Lutheran parents and baptized as an infant. However, my parents divorced, and my mother married a man who belonged to the Assembly of God, a Pentecostal denomination.
My stepfather is a loving Christian who read the Bible to us every night. But his church wrongly taught that infant baptism is invalid, and that I needed a second “Spirit baptism” before the Holy Spirit could dwell within me. The outward sign of this is “speaking in tongues.”
Unlike most people in the congregation, I could not speak in tongues. Inadequacy plagued me every Sunday morning. As people prayed and sang in tongues, my eyes would dart around the sanctuary, catching glimpses of upraised arms and trembling bodies. One woman would leap out of her wheelchair and start wailing “prophecies.”
If these were model believers, I felt like an incomplete Christian.
I prayed for God to bless me with tongues. I would open my mouth, swirl my tongue, and pray that angelic speech would gush out. Instead, I sounded like a babbling infant. Tongues was not my gift.
After a few years, we began church hopping. At every church I was told that in order to be saved, I had to ask Jesus to come into my heart and make a personal decision for Christ. To be a truly repentant Christian, I had to stop sinning completely. This was a tough requirement since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The more I tried to be holy, the more I recognized my sinfulness. As a teenager, I struggled against bitterness, pride, lust, and other sins that left me hating myself and doubting God’s grace. How could I ever be certain of my salvation?
Whenever I lapsed, I would “rededicate” my life to Christ, asking him to “come back” into my heart. I knew many people who recommitted themselves to the Lord, only to fall again and start over. Of course, this time they would “mean it.” But how could they ever know they meant it? How could I? I despaired of my salvation and fell into a spiritual depression. I needed grace.
I had fallen for a major theological error: You have to seek God and choose Him. But the Bible says no one seeks God or does good. Isaiah says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”
According to Luther, “The love of God does not find its object in man but must create it.” In other words, we have nothing to offer God. He offers Himself to us.
During my senior year of high school, my parents started attending an LCMS congregation and encouraged me to go with them. Initially, I protested, “Those Lutherans aren’t even Christians!” But my desperation moved me to see if I could find God there. I didn’t. He found me.
At that Lutheran church, I heard the pure Gospel for the first time. I heard the words of Jesus: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). God’s grace comes on His initiative. When I gave up the search, I discovered He sought me.
I went through adult confirmation with my new pastor, Rev. Jim Thelen, and came to believe God had already chosen me at my baptism when the Holy Spirit created faith in my heart through water and the Word. I believe—but I will never understand
God’s grace. You simply can’t get your mind around it!
Only Christ’s choice can change your life and break your bondage to sin. Only His choice counts—and He chose you.